Oscar Nominated Live-Action Short Films 2013 (ShortsHD, NR)

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curfew 75Shawn Christensen has a strong visual sense and a slightly twisted sense of humor, and puts both to good use as he takes “Curfew” in directions you never would have expected.

 

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Henry, pictured above Curfew

We’re living in the golden age of the short film—shorts may no longer be regularly shown with theatrical features, but between festivals, television, and the internet, this may be the best time ever for making a short film and getting it seen. That last part is key, because shorts are one of the best ways for filmmakers to get noticed.

The cable channel ShortsHD has created three programs of Oscar-nominated shorts (animated, live-action, and documentary) that are being presented theatrically at theaters around the country. In case you were wondering, by MPAA definition a short film runs 40 minutes or less, including the credits—although, of course, many are much shorter.

My pick among the live action shorts is Shawn Christensen’s “Curfew” (19 minutes), mainly because it has all the conventional elements required of a narrative film, and yet is also really out there. It begins with the hoariest of clichés, a suicide interrupted by a timely phone call, but Christensen has a strong visual sense (he studied illustration and graphic design at Pratt Institute) and a slightly twisted sense of humor, and puts both to good use as he takes the story in directions you never would have expected.

“Buzkashi Boys,” a 29-minute film directed by Sam French, centers on two boys (Fawad Mohammadi and Jawaanmard Paiz) in Kabul who are mad for buzkashi, a sport involving teams of horsemen and a headless goat carcass. It’s the most straightforward of the five nominated films, with high production values and a story that’s easy to relate to (complete with standard emotional cues from the soundtrack), and for that reason may draw favor from the Oscar voters. For my taste, it’s too paint-by-numbers to surpass the more imaginative films, but it does allow you to see aspects of Kabul society unlikely to make the 5 o’clock news.

The French Canadian film “Henry,” directed and produced by Yan England, needs only 21 minutes to present a full portrait of the title character, an 84-year-old musician (Gérard Poirier) suffering from dementia. It’s a melancholy film, but also beautiful and oddly soothing, as Henry can relive key moments of his life in his mind, even as fades in and out of present-day reality.

The Belgian/French “Death of a Shadow,” a 20-minute short directed by Tom Van Avermaet, is an intellectual horror film about a man who died during World War I, and whose shadow was taken by a collector. It’s a strange film and not overly easy to follow, but quite visually striking, all gritty browns and grays and steampunk machinery.

The central figure in “Asad,” an 18-minute film directed by Bryan Buckley, is a young man growing up in a Somali fishing village. He must choose between the two paths available to him: the fast-money life of piracy, or the more stable route of becoming an honest fisherman. Buckley has directed over 40 Super Bowl commercials, experience that shows in his sure command of the technical details of filmmaking. However, one drawback to this film is that it looks pretty much like an 18-minute television commercial, creating a touch of the surreal in the contrast between the film’s subject matter and its glossy technical package. | Sarah Boslaugh

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